Rebirth of Reason


Machan's Archives - Fourth of July Reflections
by Tibor R. Machan

For some people the Fourth of July is the most important holiday in America. Sadly, not for all, especially not just now when most of the leadership of the country has made it clear that principles do not matter. What matters is what is expedient or practical, which is something very unstable.

Sadly there is an element to the Fourth that has always been a liability. It is that principles of politics, economics, ethics or any other practical field, have been championed as if they were like principles of geometry, logic or mathematics, namely, timelessly true, certain beyond a shadow of a doubt. Like timeless laws of nature! And no practical principles can be like that since the future can always bring to light facts that could require modifying them. This was something the framers of the American system were well aware of, which is why they included the amendment provision in the constitution. This doesn’t mean principles do not exist, only that they are always to be understood within the most up to date context of their subject matter.

Because the basic principles that are to be celebrated on the Fourth of July are derived from human nature, which remains stable over centuries on end, they are good guides to the way a human community should be framed or constituted. Human nature hasn’t changed for a very long time and so it can serve as a stable basis for how human communities are to be conceived and governed. Many aspects of human life change but human nature has remained stable, unchanging for centuries and so it can serve as the basis of a legal order, just as the American founders believed, based on their study of some of the great moral and political thinkers in human history.

If, however, the possibility of having to make some changes, amendments, alterations, or modifications on those principle is denied, their credibility suffers. No one can reasonably guarantee that those principles will never need some alteration and by promising that they won’t, they become vulnerable to valid skeptical doubts. And those who have not liked the principles of the Declaration and the Bill of Rights, all the statists who live in the country, can take advantage of this and even ridicule the idea of our finding such stable basic principles. By making the mistake of claiming that the principles are everlasting, they are put into jeopardy at the hands of their detractors and enemies.

Nor are the principles of the Declaration self-evident! It is made clear in the document itself that they are only held to be such, for purposes of making the declaration. Since they require demonstration and proof, they can only be held to be but are not in fact self-evident! Very few truths are self-evident and the Founders were aware of this--for example, the first principles of logic that Aristotle identified (since they are required to prove anything in need of being proven).

Misunderstanding this has also been used by detractors for purposes of discrediting the principles involved in the founding of the country. This despite the fact that the Declaration is quite clear about the matter: “We hold these truths to be self-evident” instead of “These truths are self-evident.”

Unfortunately, throughout the educational system of the country, from the elementary to the graduate levels, making this clear is difficult since strictly speaking the principles of the Declaration do not support government run educational institutions. Limited government is what those principles support and permitting government to run the bulk of the educational system expands the scope of government way beyond what it is limited to in the philosophy of the Declaration, the founding document of the country that states clearly that government is instituted so as to secure our individual rights!

It would be paradoxical for most educators to take seriously the idea of limited government since they are all complicit in expanding government’s reach into the lives of the citizenry. So the proper study of the meaning of the Declaration and thus the type of country this is supposed to be would invalidate the public or governmental educational system.

Which is one reason why there is no general understanding within the population of just what kind of political system the American founders produced. Most of these educators are, in fact statists, through and through, and within that framework they cannot make clear sense of the principles of the Declaration of Independence and, therefore, of what is really to be celebrated on the Fourth of July.
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